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Peter Luff

England Cry Freedom

Subject: English Votes

Dear Nick Raynsford,

In a discussion between yourself and Peter Luff published in the House Magazine (20th February 2006) Mr Luff rightly accuses you of sophistry for your statement that it is "simply not true that the Celtic nations can impose their will in England as you claim". As Mr Luff correctly points out "Scottish MPs can now use their votes in London to create a majority for issues affecting only England and which a majority of English MPs oppose".

What really annoyed me is your claim that devolution "has not unbalanced the constitution". You then go on to hypothesise that under the Conservative’s flawed and unworkable policy of EVoEM you, "as a London MP, should be debarred from voting on decisions affecting policing, transport or economic development spending in other parts of England, because the GLA has devolved powers in these areas".

This is again pure sophistry – an absolute non sequitur - because you are not an assembly member, and even if you were assembly members have no powers to legislate, only the power to scrutinize.

It may be your fervent desire to see England Balkanized into legislating regions so that this argument holds water but fortunately it is not the case, and it is unlikely to ever be the case following your thumping and well-deserved defeat in the North East. So I fail to see why you feel that it helps you to resort to such fatuous arguments.

You do make the case that "London has a city wide authority with significant devolved powers, which are likely to be extended" but this is just hypothesis upon hypothesis; even if the powers of the London Assembly were extended it would not prevent the West Lothian Question from being asked by Londoners; and in the unimaginable situation that London was given the same powers as the Scottish Parliament it would not prevent the West Lothian Question being a problem for the rest of England.

You also trundle out the idea that devolution to Scotland and Wales was a fop to the nationalists by stating that "nationalist calls for independence have been notably less frequent and less persuasive since the creation of the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly”. This is a ploy used by Lord Falconer who, in his now infamous interview with John Humphries, stated that "The reason for devolution was that the Scots and the Welsh felt that policies could be imposed upon them for which there was little or no support in Scotland or Wales, that's why devolution was popular."

However, if one follows that line of argument to its logical conclusion it is a perfectly reasonable and fair request that England too should have the constitutional protection afforded to Scotland and Wales, to prevent MPs that are democratically unaccountable to the English people from overturning the collective will of their English-constituency MPs (see top-up fees and foundation hospitals).

You are quite right to reject the Conservative proposals for a parliament within a parliament – a sovereign UK parliament that excludes non-English members – but as you offer no alternative your objection sounds rather hollow, and in resorting to the art of sophistry to try and weasel your way out of answering a democratic absurdity and constitutional injustice against England you only serve to stoke the fire of English nationalism to threaten the union from a new angle. For all its practical faults EVoEM does attempt to solve the West Lothian Question, if leaving the larger related English Question unanswered. The Act of Union abolished the Scottish and English parliaments so that we would be governed by one parliament, but in 1998 the Scottish parliament emerged from the vault of history, in an emasculated form, but nevertheless a national parliament, whilst leaving in situ the ‘right’ of Scottish MPs to vote on what should be the business of an English parliament. This is clearly unacceptable to the vast majority of people in England (YouGov, April 2005). We are a multinational state and it is wrong to grant national parliaments to some nations whilst leaving the other without any collective voice.

You may fancifully believe that you have capped Scottish and Welsh nationalism in order to save the Union but what you fail to appreciate is that the Union is one of nations, not one of nations and English regions. If the Union is to survive then it must be renegotiated so that it is an acceptable proposition to each of the constituent nations; if the principle of self-determination is good for Scotland then the same arguments hold true for England; equality or nothing; constitutional parity or independence.

England too deserves a parliament, and if you deny us our right as a nation then it is you that is putting the Union at risk. I favour a devolved English parliament, possibly a federal UK of nations, but given the stance of yourself and Lord Falconer I am now tempted to begin calling for English independence, because if you have demonstrated anything it is that those that shout loudest are the ones that are appeased.

The Scots and Welsh cried ‘freedom’ and got devolution, the English cry ‘devolution’ and get sophistry, obsfucation and denial. If you are seriously contemplating facing us off with the ultimatum 'either accept second class constitutional status and a Balkanised England, or campaign for independence and dissolve the UK' then I put it to you that you are playing a very dangerous game. You want to think long and hard before forcing us down that path because once we take it our present demands for fair democracy and constitutional parity within the United Kingdom will suddenly start looking extremely reasonable to you.

By hook or by crook we will get an English parliament (most likely through constitutional meltdown when your government is voted out of office and the Tories introduce EVoEM), whether you like it or not. May I suggest that your time might be better spent working out how the Union can be saved by making it work to the purpose for which it was intended: a Union of Nations.

All the best,

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